There has never been a film that created more hype than “The Force Awakens.” The seventh chapter in the Star Wars saga made over $100 million through ticket presales before it even hit theaters. It is the fastest film to make $1 billion (it only took 12 days) and it is rare to encounter someone who did not see the movie within its first week in theaters. Somehow, even after developing the highest of expectations for this cultural phenomenon that stopped the world on its axis, “The Force Awakens” still managed to blow my mind. It is everything that Star Wars ever set out to be and everything that the prequels tried to achieve. When rating this film, it is definitely on the same level of the original trilogy and I might even rank it higher than “Return of the Jedi.” It’s tough to make a statement like that after one viewing, but I believe that time will actually strengthen my love for this film. Most peoples’ nostalgia toward the originals will prevent them from putting this one on the same level but, even with the nostalgia factored in, I believe that this film should be included as “Part Four” when viewing the original trilogy. The story is incredible. One of the main criticisms that I’ve heard about this film is that it is too similar to Episode IV, but I loved every parallel. I’ll gladly call this film “A New Hope 2.0” as it displays the cyclical nature of the universe and emphasizes the idea that we are always going to need a hero, even when all of our problems seem to be resolved. It also seamlessly incorporates old characters and new characters to eliminate any disconnect between the stories. I was never a big Chewbacca fan but this film has made him one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe. His comedic moments are fantastic and there is something magical about seeing him and Han Solo sit in the Millennium Falcon nearly 40 years later. All of the acting is excellent, which is a nice change of pace from the prequels. Director J.J. Abrams followed in the footsteps of George Lucas by casting relatively unknown actors and he hit a homerun with Daisy Ridley. She has already become the new face of the franchise as the character Rey and the success of this film will launch her career beyond a galaxy far, far away. She displays the emotions necessary for a deep, dramatic role while having the physique and attitude for an action film. She is perfectly complemented by John Boyega, whose storm-trooper-turned-rebel character has a great opportunity to transform throughout the story. These characters immediately fit into the Star Wars universe through their interactions with the returning actors from the original trilogy. Carrie Fisher is limited in her screen time but she has several incredible moments with Harrison Ford, who could make a strong case for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination this year. It was also smart to include big names like Lupita Nyong’o and Andy Sirkis in motion-capture roles that completely disguised their appearance and didn’t distract from the story. Visually, the film strikes a perfect balance between live-action, real sets, and computer animation. Where Episodes I-III overused computer animation to the point that the films looked like a video game, Episode VII utilizes modern technology the way that the original would have if the technology was available. The computers are never the star and leave room for the plot to develop without distraction. 2015 was a strong year for visual effects but it is hard to imagine anything defeating this film. My favorite visual effect is BB-8. He is a cool droid for a new generation and factors into the story as importantly as C-3PO and R2-D2 in the originals. I appreciate that this is a film that will allow the new generation to fall in love with Star Wars. The tone feels darker and more adult than the original but, in spite of its PG-13 rating, "The Force Awakens" is still appropriate for families. Younger children might need to have their eyes covered for two brief moments but it is clear that Abrams did not try to be too “edgy.” One of the amazing things about this film was the journey to avoid spoilers. The social media age has made it difficult to keep anything quiet but I hope that everybody has the opportunity to experience this film without spoilers. The unexpected moments are reminiscent of the first time that you were shocked at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back” and for many, this may be their first time to have that experience. “The Force Awakens” is the complete package and will not let you down, even after all of the hype. It is the perfect blend of action, comedy, space battles, far-off lands, classic characters, new creatures, lightsabers, unexpected twists, and a super-villain that will be feared by a new generation of children.
[Pictured: The new faces of Star Wars are setting this series up for a long, successful future]